Seth Godin proposes a really interesting hierarchy of the permissions a brand can have from a consumer. Permission to talk to to you or me, in the view of Godin, is the most precious thing a brand can own. It’s the secret ingredient that makes a brand great. It’s the secret to earning a consumer’s attention.

We’re all familiar with this in our own lives. With some celebrities, products, parties, teams or publications - we’d listen to them all day. These brands have hit what Godin calls “Intravenous permission” - give me all you got, you’ve already gotten my approval. It’s things like that Netflix subscription you’ve had for 5 years, or the never ending flow of Sunset magazine that keeps coming. It’s your season tickets with the Giants or even your willingness to read and watch and (probably) buy everything that Apple sends your way.

On the opposite end of the permission spectrum is SPAM* - unasked for, uninvited and intrusive material that some 3rd party tries to push on us when it least suits us. Unfortunately once the marginal cost for sending an additional piece of unsolicited SPAM falls to zero, unscrupulous marketers take over. In the world of email or robo-calling the bad-actors doesn't care that they piss off a million people so long as some percentage bite.

And it’s not just email - now that pretty much every consumer has an “always on” relationship with the internet through their phone the opportunity for all kinds of mobile marketing is staggering. Of course that means the opportunity for bad marketing is also pretty staggering now too!

This brings us to my central point. How can we as brands adapt our methods to these new mediums and not become modern day SPAMers? The answer lies in building trust and fanatically defending that trusted relationship with your user.

Lets talk about building trust first. As Godin nicely described there are a sequence of ascending steps in terms of any brand-consumer relationship. The easiest step on this path is the Situation Level - when you stop to ask for directions or ask a store clerk for advice on a gift, or when you buy pretty much anything from anyone, you’ve given situational permission. The phrase “would you like fries with that” is a billion dollar piece of situational marketing from McDonalds. Fundamentally the person on the other side of that conversation is engaged with you already and you are sharing something relevant and valuable with them. No interruptions, no breach of trust.

Uber does a great job of lots of things and using situational permission is one of those things. Here are a couple of great campaigns - how are things going on your ride and then a super mobile friendly informational update:

Permission and Trust for the Mobile Marketer


These in-experience messages are great. I’m using the app - in fact I’m right in the middle of the experience and I’m getting relevant and helpful touches from the Brand.

Getting To The Personal Relationship

It’s these kinds of touches that help move the relationship to the next stage of the Permission marketing hierarchy - Brand Trust (I like the way Uber treats me and I’m going to continue to use their service) and then on to ‘Personal Relationship’.

Now Personal Relationship is an interesting concept, and particularly so in the context of a somewhat faceless service. How does a company like Uber build a personal relationship for 10 million users?

It’s tough, no doubt, but the key seems to be context and relevance. A personal relationship is often one where we are sharing common experiences with the “person” on the other side and that “person” interacts with us in a fashion that seems individual to us. And the interesting this is that we humans are pretty willing to attribute anthropomorphic attributes to lots of things. We give our cars names, we’ll have long conversations with chat-bots without realizing they are machines, and we’ll project our feelings onto brands that “speak our language”...

Here’s a simple personalized example again from Uber..

Permission and Trust for the Mobile Marketer

Again it’s permission based - I’m right in the app but this time it’s personal to me; incredibly relevant and and contextually spot on for where I live. Furthermore it’s delivered right when it’s important.

Trust in a digital world is a strange creature. It’s an evolving and very precious commodity. Why will we happily spend thousands of dollars buying from TheRealReal and yet be afraid to spend $100 on eBay? We trust brands that are there when we need them, that anticipate our problems and help us before we need them. We put our faith in brands that protect our trust jealousy and for those lucky few we give them our full attention.

A mobile strategy needs to be so much more than ‘having an app’. It needs to deliver a clear route to this kind of ‘personal relationship’. Does yours?


*Little known fact: the term SPAM is a reference to a 1970 Monty Python sketch where everything on the menu came with SPAM no matter what the customers wanted and singing vikings (weird.. I know!) drown out all other conversation by signing spam, spam, spam, spam…